8 Reasons to Swap Your Briefcase for a Backpack

Career Break Travel_Kellie_Netherwood-2

Whether it’s for three months or three years, swapping your briefcase for a backpack could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

More and more people of all ages and backgrounds are choosing to take time out from their day-to-day lives to travel. They do it for different reasons, in different ways and for different lengths of time, but they all have one thing in common: they don’t regret it. If anything, they regret not doing it sooner. I’m yet to meet anyone who has said “I took a career break to travel and it was the worst decision I ever made”.

Career break travel will either reconfirm the path you are currently on or it will drive you to make lifestyle changes. It’s a win-win!  

After more than a decade focusing on my career, I swapped my briefcase for a backpack in 2009 and embarked on a fifteen month round-the-world adventure. And I became a stereotype: I took a career break and it changed my life!

Since returning to London I’ve been living a more balanced lifestyle, a type of professional career breaker, letting my love of travel and photography dominate my lifestyle choices. It’s a decision that I’ve never regretted. It’s a decision that has led to me replacing the security of permanent work with more flexible contract and consulting roles. And it’s a decision that I find myself constantly explaining to two types of people.

The envious will say “you are so lucky”. And I’ll sigh and remind them that the concept of luck disappears when you are old enough to make your own decisions in life. I’m lucky to have been born in a country and generation that allow me to make the decisions that have led to this lifestyle. But I’ve made those decisions.

The fearful will ask questions that begin with the word “what”. What if you get sick? What about your pension? What if you can’t find a job when you get back? What about the gap in your CV? What if you get homesick? What about meeting someone and settling down? What if? What if? What if?

These are the people who are letting the fear of what might go wrong prevent the possibility of something amazing happening. These are the people who are asking the wrong question. These are the people who, instead of asking “what if”, should be asking “why?”

Why should you swap your briefcase for a backpack? Why should you exchange the office for the outside world? Why should you let travel, instead of work, drive your lifestyle choices for a period of time? And why should you do it now?


1.  It will reconfirm the path you are on…or lead you to a new one.

Danco Island, Antarctica

The most effective way to assess your current lifestyle is to escape it. You may find answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask. You may stumble across a new path that teaches you that you’ve been lost without realising it. Or you may gain a refreshing confirmation that your current lifestyle choices are the right ones for you.


2.  Because the retirement you are saving for may never come.

Career Break Travel Reason #2_Kellie_Netherwood

The harsh reality that most of us prefer to ignore is that there is no guarantee that tomorrow will come – and there are no guarantees we will be healthy enough to enjoy it. There is a fine line between preparing for tomorrow and living for today. So as a friend of mine so eloquently phrased it, adventure before dementia!


 3.  It will teach you the difference between being content and happy.  

Larson Harbour, South Georgia

We all know life wasn’t meant to be easy. We’ve all experienced the contrasting emotions of happy and sad. But how many of us recognise the difference between feeling content and feeling happy? Stepping away from familiar surroundings and outside of your comfort zone is a great way to find out. And once you’ve discovered the difference, you’ll find yourself striving for happiness instead of accepting contentedness.


 4. You will regain perspective.

Career Break Travel Reason #4_Kellie_Netherwood

It’s easy to lose perspective of what is important in life when you are surrounded by routine, deadlines and other people’s rules and agendas. But exchanging the office for the outside world is a great way to regain it. You will encounter people, cultures and landscapes that remind you that survival, happiness and family is more important than spreadsheets, deadlines and office politics. It’s a great reminder of the big picture and your role in it.


5.  Because you can always replenish your bank account but you cannot reclaim time.

Career Break Travel Reason #5_Kellie_Netherwood

What’s the point of working hard to save money you never have time to spend? Life will pass you by if you don’t open your eyes and a lifetime of great experiences and memories is more rewarding prize than being the richest corpse in the cemetery.


6.  Because you don’t want the only people at your funeral to be work colleagues

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve met some of my closest friends at work and they are lovely people. I hope they come to my funeral! But one of most rewarding aspects of travel is that you will cross paths with people you would not have otherwise met. They will introduce you to different ways of living, to parts of your personality you didn’t know existed and to different thoughts and values. It’s a connection that may inspire you to change your lifestyle, it may create the opportunity to try something new or at the very least, it may lead to a new friendship.


7.  You will learn new skills…


…and they will make you better at your job. Patience, tolerance and flexibility are just some of the practical skills you will develop whilst travelling, all of which can be applied to – and enhance – a work environment.


8.  You will learn more about yourself

Orne Harbour, Antarctica

There is no journey more rewarding than the one of self-discovery. And no journey can be taken whilst you are standing still. Take the time to break routine, escape from familiar surroundings and step away from people who have a pre-conceived perception of who you are. You may gravitate towards new interests and hobbies. You may discover unfulfilled potential. You may realise you’ve been flat-lining through life and return home with renewed energy, goals and enthusiasm.


The most difficult thing about career break travel is making the decision to do it. But the fear of “what if” is greatly outweighed by the rewards it offers. The only risk is, like me, you may just find it becomes a new addiction!


Have you taken a career break to travel? What do you think the best reason for doing it is?



_Kellie_Netherwood-5Do you want to receive my latest posts and photographs straight to your email inbox? Sign up here and receive a FREE Wildlife Photography (Antarctica) eBook

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com


  1. We’ve never taken a career break for travel but we’ve been lucky enough to have lots of travel holidays which have been fantastic. We’ve chosen to do ours pre-retirement rather than put it off for the time that may never come…too many of our friends have lost that opportunity far too young. No regrets from us.

  2. Love this post, Kellie. I just sold my home and will be leaving my office job at the end of the summer to take my career break, except I want it to be permanent instead of a “break” 🙂 Your post just reaffirms my decision and the sacrifices I’ve made, which were actually much more painful to make than I expected. But I’m excited about my new path.

  3. Hi Kellie

    Sorry this is slightly off point but I would love to know where you took your photos for points 2 and 5.


    • Hi Rob. Both were taken in Svolvaer in the Lofoten Islands (Norway). It was taken in the first week of January where there is only a few hours of daylight each day – but what light there is, is simply magical. #2 is one of my personal favourites, I’ve actually enlarged it and put it on the wall in my flat. I was in Lofoten for the Northern Lights, so the chance to shoot this landscape was a great bonus.

  4. Hi Kellie,

    Love your website your photographs and messages are beautiful and poignant. I am very ‘lucky’ I have lived a life of travel and career… Now 41 and have visited 51 countries many more than once. I guess I made travel and adventure a priority…I have always taken work seriously (when I do work) and as a consequence can now consult. This gives me the freedom to work pretty much when I want (lucky I know – but hard work has gone into achieving this). But I never once prioritised anything but travel. So even when I work hard I still have weekends planned, longer trips planned and travel is always my end goal. I am now off on a sabbatical 5 months of sailing to get some more qualifications and do a big Atlantic crossing – I figure sailing is a great way to see the world and make money and I can always top up with consulting work when I need to earn some serious money. Anyone can live this way. Yes there is little security, but what is security…a house…a mortgage…a car…possessions that give a false sense of security and actually tie you down and give you less freedom. Its just a different way of life…one to embrace or one to fear as you say. my fear is sitting in an office for the next 25 years…

  5. Hi Kelly

    I travel because of my work, since I am a marine biologist. Some time I wish I travelled even more. My question to you is- how do you make a living? (if you don’t mind me asking)


    • Hi Paolo, what a great opportunity to travel with your work. My background is accounting and finance and I now work as a consultant, so I work on 6-12 month projects, allowing me to save up and then travel for a period of time between projects. Happy travels 🙂

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